Will all foreign children in the Saharonim facility be released? The Beersheba District Court, in its capacity as court for custodial issues, heard a motion filed by the Hotline for Migrant Workers in the name of three Eritrean citizens – a mother and her two daughters aged eight and 11 – who were appealing a decision of the Custodial Court not to release them.
Chief Justice Joseph Elon ruled that minors fall under "special humanitarian grounds" allowing their release from custody, and ordered that the three, who had been imprisoned for 10 months, be freed from Saharonim Prison, under terms to be decided on Wednesday by the Custodial Court.
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The Infiltration Prevention Law enacted in June 2012 allows for the imprisonment of illegal migrants for a period three years and at times even more, without being tried. Currently, some 2,500 infiltrators are housed at Saharonim and Ketziot prisons, 41 of them children imprisoned with their parents. Of these, 15 are infants and toddlers up to the age of two, and 26 are children up to the age of 10.
To date and during the hearing itself, the government argued that because the law states that you can only release children and youth who came to Israel without their parents, the obvious conclusion is that children who come with their parents must remain in custody.
Illegal migrants at Saharonim Prison, archives (Photo: Haim Horenstein)
Judge Elon rejected the claims and stated that the release of minors for humanitarian reasons is a matter within judicial discretion, even when a minor is accompanied by his parents. "As a judge in the Administrative Court in Israel, I am not prepared to accept the respondent's (the Interior Ministry) contention that leaving a child of eight and her sister, of 11 in a custodial facility, does not itself raise 'special humanitarian grounds.’”
"These things are obvious on an elementary moral and social level," wrote Elon. "It seems to me that in the overall balance, the infiltrators who are infants or young children are a separate subgroup, small in number, which requires separate consideration."
"Continuing to remain in custody for an indefinite period would no doubt significantly harm the children’s mental and social development," Elon added.
According to attorney Raya Meiler of the Migrant Worker Hotline, the ruling has implications on the lives of dozens of babies and children who have been imprisoned in detention centers for months, with no known release date.
Following the judgment, the hotline is working to track down all minors currently in detention facilities to arrange their release. "The fact that the State of Israel did not see anything wrong with children and adolescents growing up within detention facilities, shows more than anything that the country has dulled its senses when it comes to its attitude toward this group, its defense trampled on even the most basic rights of the helpless."
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